A historic season ends in a historic way.
One of the best seasons in Wisconsin Badgers history concluded in fairy-tale fashion Saturday night with a 34–24 win in the Orange Bowl over the “host” Miami Hurricanes. UW’s latest New Year’s Six bowl victory resulted in the first 13-win season in program history and extended the Big Ten’s 2017 bowl winning streak to seven games.
Here are the unit grades.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook earned vindication after a season of criticism, scoring the Orange Bowl Most Valuable Player award after finishing with 258 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor broke the single-season freshman rushing record. Taylor (technically) fumbled on the first drive of the game but led the Badgers in rushing with 130 yards.
As the Don of Running Back U I would like to say I'm so proud of Jonathan Taylor for keeping it in the family pic.twitter.com/oaMmMNQdH9— Ron Dayne (@Ron33Dayne) December 31, 2017
Freshman wide receiver Danny Davis had an an outstanding day with 56 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore A.J. Taylor led the Badgers in receiving yards, finishing with 105 yards and a touchdown.
The Badgers drew a tough assignment on the road against the ACC Coastal Division champions and more than held their own. After allowing two first-quarter touchdowns, the defense limited the home squad to just two more scores for the rest of the game.
Wisconsin’s defense held fast after Taylor’s fumble, holding the Hurricanes to a missed field goal attempt.
Andrew Van Ginkel grabbed an enormous interception early in the second quarter that led to Davis’s first touchdown. Van Ginkel’s pick turned the game around, leading to a Badgers score and giving the team momentum it would never give back.
Derrick Tindal snared a big interception as Miami drove midway through the third quarter to keep the Hurricanes from tying the game. The Hurricanes would never seriously threaten Wisconsin the rest of the game.
Special Teams: A-
Kicker Rafael Gaglianone finished the game 2-for-2 on field goal attempts and made all his PATs. Punter Anthony Lotti finished the game averaging 37.5 yards on six punts. Natrell Jamerson, Tindal, and Nick Nelson did not do anything spectacular on returns. Zach Hintze put most of his kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks.
The Badgers went down 14–3 early before dominating the last three quarters of the game. Wisconsin proved to be mentally resilient, maintaining its lead even after Miami had a mini-run in the third quarter. The Badgers schemed well and executed much better than they did against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Badgers held the Miami offense in check most of the game and moved the ball well against an opportunistic Hurricane defense.
This may have been Wisconsin’s best win of the year. Despite an early deficit, the Badgers manhandled the Hurricanes in the last three quarters en route to a convincing victory. The offense looked as good as it had all year. The defense was not as dominant as it had been throughout the season, but given that this was essentially a road game against a top-10 opponent, this was a quality performance.
The Badgers finished the game with 400 net yards and dominated time of possession 39:52 to 20:08. Wisconsin had seven third-down conversions to Miami’s two, and the Badgers were 5-of-5 in red-zone attempts.
Season Overall: A+
Wisconsin finished the year 13–1 with the Orange Bowl win. The Badgers were a drive away from a perfect season and a College Football Playoff birth. Historically, this was a top-five Wisconsin season with an epic Badgers defense and running game. It may take a couple of years, but one suspects that the fan base will eventually look back at this season as one of the all-time greats in program history.